First time at this small festival in the middle of Dartmoor for me. The setting is tremendous, surrounded by the rolling hills and endless skies of the moor. The arena is sited so that wherever you turn the land is there looking over you, so add that to the sunny weather all weekend and you’re off to a winner before a note has been played.
The first act we see on the main stage on Friday night is Martha Tilston. The last time I saw her was in the tent at Bearded Theory about five years ago, where she was a great soundtrack to laying on the grass “savouring” that three days into the festy Sunday afternoon slightly cabbaged feeling. Turns out she’s just as good at the start of the event – lovely singing, great playing and an engaging onstage personality. Next up is Neville Staple, now joined by Roddy Radiation as The Specials reformation continues to fragment. He’s great fun, delivering a set of classics from Jamaica (Pressure Drop) and Coventry (Ghost Town, Gangsters, Rat Race) and all those old songs the Specials covered (A Message To You Rudy, Guns Of Navarone, Monkey Man…). The Friday night headliners are New Model Army. Normally when you see NMA (and this is something like my eightieth gig) there’s a very partisan crowd there, which brings its own energy, but this is the first time in a while I’ve seen them play to an audience they had to win over, and they rose to the challenge really well, with the applause and cheering between songs getting noticeably louder as the set went on. There’s only one song that could end a gig on Dartmoor, and as the last echoes of “Green & Grey” went out to, er, the valleys of green and grey all around, I put it down as an away win for the plucky Bradford lads.
Not so many bands seen on the Saturday, as sitting on the grass in the sunshine talking nonsense and watching the kids play (there were four under 10s in our party) took priority, along with more than a few trips to the bar (run by Dartmoor Brewery, with their own ales and plenty of Devon ciders at £3.50 a pint, which I thought was pretty good). We did make the effort to see Gaz Brookfield in the tent, who was as passionate and entertaining as he always is. Seth Lakeman has the sunset spot on the main stage. I never know what to make of him live. The playing, from all members of the band, is unquestionably excellent, and if the set had stuck to instrumentals I’d have enjoyed it a lot more. The singing though…there’s nothing exactly wrong with his voice, but it doesn’t grab me. The delivery means I can’t follow the words or the stories of the songs (hello, grandad!), and there’s not one number with a chorus or something else to hang on to, with the result that it all goes a bit porridgey and flat. One band that have no shortage of choruses is main stage headliner the Levellers. They’re a bit creatively stagnant these days (I think they only play one song written in the 21st century, and probably three quarters of the set is from the first two records), but if they are reliant on former glories, then they have some pretty good glories to be relying on. Quite possibly the perfect festival headlining band, they have the crowd jumping and bellowing along.
Capacity is around 5k, mostly locals attracted by the idea of a festival rather than any specific acts. This was probably the festival with the lowest number of band or other festival T-shirts I’ve ever been to. All good natured though, and a nice age range.
It made me think..
Knowing the nearby town of Chagford well, I’d been a bit worried that this one may have been a bit more Waitrose than the kind of festivals I normally go to (and those fears weren’t exactly assuaged when I saw a woman chasing after her toddler shouting “Perseus! Perseus! Come back, Perseus!”) but it turned out that the slightly ramshackle hippy spirit you need for a nice chilled out time was present and correct.